Refugee athletes torch of inspiration at Olympics
Afghan refugee Masomah Ali Zada hopes to be a beacon of inspiration for 82 million refugees all around the globe and especially for oppressed women, who were forced to flee their homes either inside their countries or as refugees or abandon their sporting dreams, when she crosses the start line at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for the Olympic Refugee Team.
Zada sees herself as a representative of women living in repressive societies, and of sportswomen who wear a headscarf. But she takes up the burden voluntarily -- and with pride. "I am going to represent humanity," Ali Zada told AFP.
The 24-year-old road cyclist had stones thrown at her and was physically attacked in her homeland for daring to don sportswear and ride a bicycle in public.
"It's not just for me. It's rather for all the women in Afghanistan and all women in every country like Afghanistan who don't have the right to do cycling," she said, as the Taliban hardliners sweep across the country again.
Ali Zada will take on 25 other competitors in the Olympic women's road time trial and when she sets off on July 28 on the 22.1-kilometre course, it will be the first time Ali Zada has ever raced in a time trial. Fifty-six refugee athletes, from as far afield as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran, were given a solidarity scholarship by the International Olympic Committee, of which 29 were chosen to compete in Tokyo under the Olympic flag.
Among them is Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, a 26-year-old refugee from South Sudan. Currently she pounds around a running track outside Nairobi, trying to shave seconds off her time in the build-up to her appearance at the Tokyo Olympics. Her particular talent is the 1,500 metres.
There are no national emblems on her training gear - she will not be running for South Sudan, the country of her birth that she fled in 2002, nor for Kenya, the country that took her in.
Her training was thrown into chaos a year ago when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. As Kenya's government imposed restrictions, she had to leave the training centre in Ngong and head hundreds of miles northwest to her old home in Kakuma refugee camp.
"In the refugee camp, most of the time, it is challenging. It is not a good place (where) you can train," she said.
Her training took a hit but she never gave up. The pandemic "is not something that (just) happened to me only ... I never lose hope because I know there (is) something ahead of me."
Lohalith and other refugee athletes have only recently been able to return to the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation training centre.